Sweden's New Debate on NATO Membership

To the disappointment of many international observers, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson last week dismissed the idea that Russia...


To the disappointment of many international observers, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson last week dismissed the idea that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would drag Sweden into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Applying for membership would “destabilize the situation even more,” she said dryly at a press conference on Wednesday. But domestic politics could still bring the country closer to NATO, either by forcing Mrs Andersson’s hand or by transferring power to her adversaries.

PM’s comments look cowardly next to bold stances other European powers have taken against

Vladimir Poutine. Prior to his invasion of Ukraine, Europe seemed largely divided on the question of Russia. But since Mr. Putin’s troops crossed the Ukrainian border, European leaders have shown a largely unified front against him.

This included Sweden, which sent arms, body armor and rations to the Ukrainian army at the start of the invasion, and later announced that it would increase national military spending to 2% of domestic product. raw. Meanwhile Finland, Sweden’s closest defense partner, has accelerated talks and preparations to join NATO. And for the first time, opinion polls in Sweden show pluralities or even a majority also in favor of joining the alliance. It seemed that the invasion of Moscow – launched in part to try to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO – could end up expanding the alliance’s footprint in Europe.

But Ms Andersson’s hijacking of NATO should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her political party, the Social Democrats, which has long opposed Sweden’s formal involvement in any military alliance. Having dominated Swedish politics for more than a century, the party’s foreign policy position has reinforced the country’s national identity as a humanitarian superpower committed to peace, diplomacy and neutrality. Swedish political parties have long been distinguished by their economic policy rather than their defense policy. From the late 20th century to the early 21st, there was a left-wing bloc led by Social Democrats who advocated strong social services and a right-wing coalition that pursued free-market reforms and economic deregulation. Both sides have pursued dramatic reductions in defense spending. They preferred to devote resources to other problems, such as Sweden’s high youth unemployment, the failing welfare state and the influx of refugees. Add to that Social Democrats’ criticism of US incursions into the Middle East and their distrust of Turkey’s illiberal NATO-member President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and you can see the source. of Mrs Andersson’s hesitation.

However, these political fault lines began to change about 10 years ago, with the rise of Sweden’s anti-immigrant Democrats. When it entered Parliament in 2010, this nationalist party took such a large part of the electorate that it denied both the left and the right an absolute majority. United in opposition to the cultural conservatism of the Swedish Democrats and pushing for tighter border controls, in 2019 two parties from the former centre-right coalition set aside their economic agendas and threw their support behind the Social Democrats. As a result, the current government is centre-left, but its survival depends on passive support from right-wing allies.

The debate over NATO membership has divided this centrist alliance. Left-wing parties in the ruling government, including the Social Democrats, oppose membership, while the wider centre-right is pushing for Sweden to join. And although Sweden’s Democrats had previously officially opposed NATO membership, party leader Jimmie Åkesson announced on March 11 that they were reassessing their position. If the nationalists changed their position, a majority of the Swedish parliament – ​​almost 60% – would support NATO membership.

It is possible that Ms Andersson’s apparent deposition on Sweden’s NATO membership is part of a strategy to set aside potential incentives for Mr Putin to withdraw from Ukraine. But if the move has less inspired motivations, if it stems from bureaucratic paralysis and the notorious inability of social democrats to adapt to change, other figures in Swedish politics should be ready to lead the country. towards NATO membership.

That may depend on Annie Lööf, the charismatic leader of the Center Party, the larger of the two former centre-right parties whose support enables the Social Democrats to govern. With national elections looming this fall, Ms Lööf has the power to push Stockholm towards NATO by leveraging her party’s support for the ruling government. Either the Social Democrats take concrete steps to join the alliance, or Ms Lööf and her party could turn right and unite a majority in favor of NATO membership.

The first option, however, is probably better for the country. The decision to end Sweden’s 200-year tradition of official military non-alignment should come from a broad coalition. Yet, even if the country were to be led into the alliance by a smaller majority, it would be better than the other scenario that looms in the near term, in which political maneuvering allows an outdated minority opinion to stymie country’s defenses as Russia develops further. belligerent.

Mr. Teitelbaum is an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of “Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism” and “War for Eternity: The Rise of the Populist Right and the Return of Traditionalism.” . ”

Wonder Land: The world, led by NATO, should guarantee Lviv’s status as a ‘free city’, just as Western powers did for West Berlin in 1948. Images: Keystone-France/Gamma- Keystone/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Newsrust - US Top News: Sweden's New Debate on NATO Membership
Sweden's New Debate on NATO Membership
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